A month into my life in New York City, Google wanted to tell me how many miles I had walked in the last four weeks. Because I depended on GoogleMaps so much to get around, I was definitely interested in that calculation. But as the months passed and I learned my way enough without exclusive use of the app, I realized there was no way of knowing how much I had exactly walked at any time in the city.
Arriving in New York on August 27, 2018 was like any other time I had come to visit. And then it wasn’t. When I deboarded the airplane and found a taxi to deliver me from LaGuardia to my friend’s apartment in Astoria, Queens, it dawned on me that there would be no return trip. Where I was usually planning how I could return to the airport more cost effectively in the days ahead, I was now looking out of the car window knowing I was on my way home. But for all the assurance the concept of “home” evokes, it was questionable at that moment—though I had two suitcases in the back of the car and a job waiting on me in Brooklyn, I still had no apartment.
Within days the apartment came. I started my job. My generous friends mailed me all sixteen boxes of my things from a storage unit in Atlanta. I settled in, but not to the life I wanted. My job didn’t pay enough as I wanted (or needed) it to and my four-bedroom apartment had three more occupants than desired. After spending ten years investing in three degrees, this is the new life I had entered.
Despite my feelings about my new arrangements, it’s fair to say I moved to New York because I’m a planner. Two years prior I had planned the move when I started writing my dissertation. For the first time in my life I wasn’t tied to an institution, didn’t have a major academic requirement haunting me, nor did I have any geographical restrictions on where I could live and for how long. At 28, I did what my Saturn’s Return called me to do—I searched for as many nonprofit and arts jobs as I could until I got something. I packed up my life to live in a place where—for the first time—I would not have a washer-dryer unit in my apartment.
Despite Google’s intentions, it can’t know how seemingly fast those individual journeys led me to today. It can’t know that I got into my first relationship, that I grew restless of searching for certain foods in grocery store aisles, or the number of friends I made. There isn’t a transcript of when I got a ticket for illegally letting my friend through the subway turnstile without paying. I want to know how many times I visited the laundromat, the liquor store, and gone to brunch. Miles mapped will not say how I ventured into Brooklyn’s grocery stores to find ingredients that would bring me comfort—turkey necks, whole rainbow trout, beef liver, green tomatoes, collard greens, sizable whiting.
This matrix of a place is the same city I almost lived in when I was eighteen. Or was it? The first time I visited at ten-years-old, the distinct smell of heat escaping subway tunnels mixed with early morning air in Manhattan was forever stamped into my mind as the smell of New York City. And then it wasn’t. I had been to New York so many times since then that that smell was no longer novel to me. The city’s rhythm was not foreign. I got on the train and was not in awe as it jerked forward, pulling me. I held on.
When people ask how has living in the city been, they want me to say how it’s such a big change from other places I have lived. While it’s true that it is, there was not so much to get used to. I didn’t stand in Times Square thinking that I’d finally made it. I actually avoided it and all the people in the way of me catching a show at the theater. I had missed my New York moment; I slid right into the fold of the city walker’s stride.
Though I wish I had my New York moment a year ago, I’m happy it lives with my ten-year-old self. Because sometimes, at the most unexpected times during the day or night, when I’m walking along without thinking about where I am, I get traces of the city’s smell. It catches me and then it turns me loose, never lingering. I want to stay in that awe, but I go back to my life knowing that I won’t always be in this specific place in my life. There will be other jobs, other apartments, and other relationships. There will be new adventures in this city with different New York moments. I’ll keep walking, remembering to count the experiences, not the miles. I’ll wait it out. Maybe next year.